Turmeric root, which gives Indian curry its bright yellow colour, is a member of the ginger family and is native to southern parts of Asia. On the outside, Turmeric looks like a small ginger root, but when cut open the inside is a deep orange or yellow. Most people are familiar with powdered turmeric, which is commonly found in curry powder and gives curry its distinctive colour.
What’s the difference between curcumin and turmeric?
Curcumin is one of the several compounds found in turmeric, and the one that provides turmeric with its colour and its potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Three of the best-researched health benefits for curcumin are:
- Reducing inflammation
- Reducing pain
- Neutralizing free radicals
Chronic, low-level inflammation is believed to contribute to many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, aches and pains, skin sensitivities and depression.
Curcumin has been shown to inhibit many of the molecules that play significant roles in inflammation. It reduces inflammation by preventing pro-inflammatory signals, reducing the ability of immune cells to get to the sites of inflammation and reducing the activity of inflammatory enzymes. It can decrease the inflammation commonly associated with arthritis and can help reduce soreness after strenuous physical activity and promote healing.
Secondary to curcumin’s ability to reduce inflammation, it’s quite good at reducing pain and improving functionality in instances of osteoarthritis. In fact, curcumin worked as well as ibuprofen at reducing osteoarthritis pain, in a study published in the Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2009.1
Neutralizing Free Radicals
We think of them as tiny forces of destruction, but free radicals are essential to life. The body’s ability to turn air and food into chemical energy depends on a chain reaction of free radicals. A crucial part of our immune system, free radicals also attack foreign invaders.
When, however, there are too many free radicals, oxidative stress occurs, causing damage to cells, proteins and DNA. Antioxidants keep free radicals from causing damage. Curcumin, a powerful antioxidant, can neutralize free radicals.
The potential for curcumin as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory agent is impressive, but curcumin is not water soluble or absorbed from the gut. If not taken along with fats or oils, the benefits are mostly lost, which is why it’s best to take curcumin with a meal containing fats or oils.
1) Kuptniratsaikul V, Thanakhumtorn S, Chinswangwatanakul P, Wattanamongkonsil L, Thamlikitkul V. Efficacy and safety of Curcuma domestica extracts in patients with knee osteoarthritis. J Altern Complement Med. 2009;15(8):891-7.